Guatemala or Bust, chapter 2: Mexico

Our route cut across just a corner of the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico is one of the states I look forward to exploring, but not in an old ambulance. We were on a mission. Next stop: Dallas.

The main thing I recall about being on the road in Texas was how many “Drive friendly” signs were posted along the flat highways. Oh – and the heat. A lot of the extra equipment you’d normally find in an ambulance had been removed. So there we were, driving a Cadillac in Texas in July, with the windows down because we didn’t have air conditioning. That’s a memory, right there. I delivered my driving companion to her destination in Dallas, then proceeded to Houston, where the humidity was as almost as high as the temperature. No plans to go back to Houston as a tourist.

The agency in Seattle had arranged for a pastor from Guatemala to meet me at the airport in Houston. I spoke only poquito Español, and would need help crossing both the Mexican and Guatemalan borders with my donated vehicle. As it turned out, my new Guatemalan friend spoke no English but was very patient as I gestured and feebly attempted to recall my third grade Spanish.

We crossed the border at Laredo and I immediately fell for the old trick of having to get some money changed into local currency. How could I drive away with all of those arms inside the car waving in my face? Bienvenido!

We’d been driving pretty much around the clock in the US. Once in Mexico we stayed in motels to get better rest, and to avoid drivers who didn’t use their headlights at night. It was my first driving experience outside of the US. Cars generally stayed on the roads but didn’t hesitate to use the medians and sidewalks if necessary. Getting through a city was terrifying and exhausting – definitely not a way to see the sights.

We spent our first night in Saltillo and our second in San Luis Potosi. Next day we went through Mexico City and on to Vera Cruz – a long journey. The descent from Mexico City’s 7,300′ altitude to the coastal town of Vera Cruz was unforgettable. Lightning struck the ground all around us as the air grew thicker, warmer, sweeter, and full of the sounds of the tropics. So this was a jungle. Birds and flowers were everywhere in colors I’d only seen in my dreams. But we had to push on, and didn’t reach our motel until well after dark. Worn out from a long day on the road, my buddy and I were ready to crash. But we were probably the only ones in town wanting to sleep: about 10 PM Friday night Vera Cruz was just coming to life. People were filling the streets and squares, eating and drinking, and dancing to marimba bands. We watched them until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.

Got an early start the next day and drove through the states of Oaxaca, Tabasco, and Chiapas on our way to Mexico’s southern border. Two things stood out about the border crossing at Tapachula: enormous Junebugs, and a little clerical error.

Hard to believe that bugs that size could ever get off the ground. These were almost big enough to charter and even sounded like small planes buzzing in slow circles around the office. They were fascinating to watch, but we were also trying to come up with a solution to the border official’s discovery that the signature on my visa was dated July 1974 instead of 1976. Dang! Too bad I didn’t spot that while still in the consulate’s office in Seattle. Oh well – what’s the worst that could happen? “Here’s your ambulance back, guys. Sorry I couldn’t deliver it – there was an incorrect date on my visa. I’m really sorry.” Probably not. My Guatemalan brother’s Spanish and diplomatic skills were called into action. While I was distracted by the Junebugs, he went to work. After about an hour of his gentle persuasion, the gate went up for us to enter his beautiful homeland.

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